Home > Winedr Blog

Bordeaux 2014 Primeurs: Boozy Lunches and Blinkers

Well Tuesday went well. After running late for most of Monday, on Tuesday I ended up running early, at one point up to 50 minutes ahead of schedule. You might think this a sign of bad planning, but it was just the luck of the draw. I simply couldn’t get some appointments at the times I wanted, giving me a rather ‘spaced out’ schedule, but rather than hang around waiting for my allotted times I just turned up early. A little bit inconvenient, but I hoped my interest would be looked upon kindly. It was, and so I kept the day running nicely; indeed, I managed to fit in two tastings that weren’t even on my timetable for the day.

It was 8am at Château Calon-Ségur for the first tasting, and as on previous days it was cold, miserable and disappointing (the weather, not the wine). I tasted with Vincent Millet, who is pleased with the results of the 2014 vintage. Then I quickly swung by Château Pédesclaux to see the results of recent building work here, the château (below) now flanked by two steel and glass cubes. It certainly looks interesting. As for the wine, I will taste that later today (Wednesday) with Emmanuel Cruse who has a big role here and at the other Lorenzetti estate, Lilian-Ladouys. Then it was on to Château Pontet-Canet, before hopping next-door to Château Mouton-Rothschild, then another hop up the road to Château Lafite-Rothschild. Next was Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste, followed by Château Latour. That took me up to lunchtime, and so I headed up to Château Sociando-Mallet to taste, and then I sat down for lunch, an informal affair of cold charcuterie followed by boeuf en daube and cheese. There was a bottle of the 2006 Sociando-Mallet to wash it all down with, if required. I took a couple of mouthfuls to taste, but no more than that, as it is a long day, and I am of course driving for much of it. This was my most luxurious lunch of the week, by the way, as usually I just grab a sandwich in the car between appointments.

Château Pédesclaux, March 2015

This is, it has to be said, a great contrast to the experience some enjoy during the primeurs week. It can be a bit of a party, with long boozy lunches with plenty of old vintages served, and lazy dinners too. This is fine for the wine trade; if you’re in the trade you definitely should be dining with the Bordelais in this fashion, building a good working relationship, getting to know one another, because the merchants and the châteaux depend on one another to survive (although you might not think it – suffice to say it can perhaps be a little tense at time, the obvious problem in recent years being the prices). For wine critics, or writers, or bloggers, or whatever you want to call them, it seems to me to be a rather incongruous activity though. Picture the supposedly independent assessor of the latest vintage, sitting at table, grinning into the camera, glass in raised hand, enjoying the 2000 from Château Wonderful with carpaccio of coelacanth and pan-fried ortolan. As the photographs are plastered over Twitter or Facebook they might just be followed up with something like “I love the 2014 vintage”, which is of course a completely independent assessment based on long and considered though, the taster working entirely free of undue influence, despite having just had a fine gustatory experience, and having just glugged the 2005 and 1990, also from Château Wonderful. It might be all good fun, but this critic/blogger is now part of the marketing machine, and when the release prices stay high despite everything it wil be partly this critic’s fault. When the punters who bought the wines pull the corks ten years down the road, and find that actually they’re a bit lean, and maybe 2014 was a bit over-hyped after the dreary 2013 vintage, and perhaps the wines are not really all they were cracked up to be, it will also be partly that critic’s fault. Don’t believe the boozy, blinkered hype.

I digress (not for the first time). After Sociando-Mallet I headed down to Château Montrose, followed by Château Cos d’Estournel, then down to the UGC tasting for Pauillac and, although not orignally scheduled, I also squeezed in the UGC St Julien tasting. The former was at Château Lynch-Moussas, which is west of Pauillac in soils of a very sandy, gritty nature, and with all the recent rain it was a bit of a mudbath outside. My hire car is now more brown than black. The latter tasting was at Château Léoville-Poyferré. Then, as the wine wasn’t being shown at the UGC tasting (did they pull out last year? – I must remember this for future reference) I paid an unscheduled visit to Château Pichon-Lalande, where I was warmly welcomed despite turning up sans rendez-vous, and then I finished up across the road at Château Pichon-Baron, where I was certainly the last taster standing. By the time I finished, Christian Seely and Jean-René Matignon looked ready for their coats. It’s a tiring week for all, tasters, pourers and talkers.

Tomorrow, a lie-in, as my first appointment isn’t until 9am, at Château Margaux. More Margaux and St Julien thereafter, filling in a couple of Pessac-Léognan and Sauternes gaps, and then I head for the right bank before the final two days of tasting.

Bordeaux 2014 Primeurs: Rain on the Rocade

No visit to Bordeaux can be purely about the latest vintage, even if this is primeurs week, when samples of the 2014 are piled high waiting to be tasted. I’m in Bordeaux, so I think it would be silly not to take advantage of this, to visit domaines I haven’t been to before (even if they don’t have any interest in the primeurs) or, as I did before Saturday night’s L’Église-Clinet tasting, spending a few hours checking out vineyards, and taking some photographs. So yesterday (Monday) my final visit was in Sauternes, to a domaine I have never visited before. I tasted the latest releases, which included one vintage from when I was in second year at university (bear in mind my twenty-year reunion date was last year), and one from when I was still at primary school. A more compelling antithesis to the concept of tasting embryonic barrel samples would be impossible to find. But I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with the morning.

I left my accommodation at 6:30am, giving me 90 minutes (my appointment was at 8am) to complete a 60 minute journey, the extra half hour being to allow for rush hour traffic. It was raining, but progress was good, until I made it to within a few miles of the Rocade, Bordeaux’s notorious ring-road. It was gridlock, the reason being an accident somewhere ahead, the wet weather no doubt being a factor in this, and from then on I crawled along. I arrived at Château La Mission Haut-Brion 45 minutes late, not really my finest moment, as I am religious about turning up on time for château appointments. Fortunately nobody seemed to mind and as I travel and taste independently, rather than in a big group, it is probably easier to accommodate me for tasting if I am early (not likely!) or late.

Château Gilette

I often find my 8am tasting at La Mission Haut-Brion (this is a regular feature on my schedule) a pretty quiet affair, as most people are still tucking into their croissants at this time. The advantage of being late was catching up with Jean-Philippe Delmas, who showed up at 9am. It’s an interesting vintage here and at Haut-Brion, with very high alcohol levels in some cuvées, and also the strident acidity which is a feature of the vintage. As the day progressed I managed to make up time. I was only 25 minutes late by the time I made it to Château Pape Clément, 20 minutes late at Château Haut-Bailly, and getting back to normality by the time I hit the press tasting of Graves at Château Rouillac. I arrived here two hours before the start time, having discussed this with the syndicat who gave my early kick-off the go-ahead, but unfortunately nobody told the staff at the château. Cue much frantic pulling of corks……

Later (much later, there are a lot of vines planted in Graves) it was down to Sauternes, first to Château Climens for the usual brilliant barrel tasting (do they ever make a bad wine at Climens these days?), then Château Raymond-Lafon, and then my final visit of the day, to meet Xavier Gonet-Medeville of Château Les Justices and Château Gilette in Preignac. After a tour of the estate we tasted some wine (surprise!), starting with 2014, but then looking at the current and forthcoming releases of Château Gilette. These include the 1990 Crème de Tête, bottled three years ago, after eighteen years in vat, and the 1979 Crème de Tête, bottled years and years ago but currently held back for release at forty years of age. So, just another four years to wait before we can all get our hands on this then. What a great visit this was, and what a contrast to the primeurs merry-go-round of barrel samples, and all the inherently intertwined commercial pressure that comes with it.

Today (Tuesday) it is northern left bank, so that means Calon-Ségur, Pontet-Canet, Mouton-Rothschild, Lafite-Rothschild, Latour, Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Montrose, Cos d’Estournel, Pichon-Baron and probably one or two others. Fingers crossed for less rain, and fewer accidents…..

Bordeaux 2014 Primeurs: Prologue

I arrived in Bordeaux early Saturday morning. It wasn’t too much of a trial getting here. I flew from Edinburgh to Gatwick Friday evening, and apart from waiting half an hour for a bus to take us from the plane to the terminal, it was fine. Then an early flight out Saturday morning meant that I was in my hire car heading for the right bank before lunch. Sadly, the weather was grey, drizzly and wet, and it has remained that way all weekend. I’m not a great believer in the concept that tasters are sensitive to low atmospheric pressure though, regardless of how many wine experts say that bad weather is disadvantageous for wine tasting (the science just doesn’t really stack up in support of this, but I don’t want to digress so I will leave it at that), and so I have been happy tasting for at least half the weekend, come rain or shine (mostly rain).

Saturday was pretty light. I had a few hours to spare before checking in at my hotel well outside Bordeaux, in Bergerac, and I spent it looking at vineyards in Pomerol, Lalande-de-Pomerol, St Emilion and Castillon. It is remarkable that two of these appellations command such high prices, while the other two do not, and yet their terroir is so similar. This is particularly true of St Emilion and Castillon, the latter benefiting from the same limestone terroir as the former, but without the same reputation and the classification system prices remain low. Speaking to Denis Durantou on Saturday evening, he lamented the fact that so many in Bordeaux choose to invest in second projects in Argentina or California when so much wonderful terroir on their doorstep goes unexploited. Denis, of course, has invested heavily in Château Montlandrie in Castillon, to which I paid a flying visit during the course of Saturday afternoon (you see, it’s not all about the first growths and similar on Winedoctor).

Château L'Église-Clinet

I was chatting to Denis because I headed out to Château Thénac in Bergerac on Saturday evening for a tasting, first of the Thénac wines, then of Château L’Église-Clinet. If you are wondering what the connection is, Denis consults at Thénac, and has done since the 2012 vintage. It was a bit of a trip down memory lane for me, because although a fair distance from Bordeaux I know the region quite well, having spent a holiday here a few years ago. I enjoyed the cheap accommodation available in Bergerac, but would drive up to Pomerol, or across to Sauternes, to visit the likes of Jacques Guinaudeau at Château Lafleur or Aline Baly at Château Coutet.

Anyway, I digress. I tasted a number of recent vintages from Thénac, a beautiful estate (no shortage of investment here, obviously, the owner having made his money in oil), which in the case of the older vintages showed the potential of the vineyard, and in more recent times showed a step up in finesse and quality in the post-Durantou vintages. Then it was onto L’Église-Clinet, featuring wines (some pictured above) from 1995 through to 2005, in several cases from magnum as well as bottle to allow comparison. Suffice to say this was a truly great tasting, which demonstrated how things have improved here during this ten-year period. My favourite vintages were, perhaps somewhat predictably, the 1998, 2000 and also the 2005, this latter vintage showing much better than the bottle I tasted recently in my Bordeaux 2005 at Ten Years assessment.

Today, after not enough sleep, curtailed by the clocks going forward, I kicked off in St Emilion with the Cercle Rive Droite tasting, followed by visits to see Jonathan Maltus and also Château Lassegue, an estate which we should be aware of, and like the Castillon region it illustrates the value of the terroir east of the ‘classic’ St Emilion centre. I hope to be able to taste more of the Lassegue wines soon. Then it was on to the Vintex tasting for a slice of left bank action, with various interesting wines including the most exotic and exuberant vintage of Le Retout Blanc I have ever tasted, followed by a huge slew of Sauternes, just about every cuvée you could imagine. There were just one or two absentee wines (Rieussec, for example) so I hope to pick these up later in the week.

Finally, after some hastily scoffed slices of cheese and baguette to help wipe away the sugar, a short drive north saw me arrive at Château Cambon la Pelouse for the Biturica tasting. This was well worth going to; there were just five châteaux in attendance (there are only five members of the group), but there were some lovely wines, not just Cambon la Pelouse but also the wines of Belle-Vue, Gironville and Clos du Jaugueyron were particularly appealing, and even at this level (left bank Cru Bourgeois) they could wipe the floor with many of the right bank wines I had tasted earlier in the day.

Well, that was the weekend. On Monday I hear Haut-Brion, Pape-Clément, Haut-Bailly, Raymond-Lafon and Climens calling, as well as one or two other visits for up and coming profiles.

Bordeaux 2014 Primeurs

I leave this evening for Bordeaux, in order to taste and report on the wines of the 2014 vintage. In fact I’m sitting in Edinburgh airport right now; I am stopping over tonight in London, before flying out in the morning, picking up my hire car, and hitting the vineyards (I always mix some ‘vineyard visit’ time in – understanding Bordeaux is about more than slurping and spitting barrel samples). I’ve hired the smallest car possible for the primeurs trip – I do all my own driving as well as tasting and notetaking, so there’s no need for a bus. I did wonder, having heard he might be available, whether I should invite Jeremy Clarkson to be my chaffeur this year; unfortunately I haven’t heard back yet. And I thought he would bite my hand off….

I don’t have too hectic a schedule planned for the Saturday, in fact it should be fairly relaxing, but from Sunday onwards it will be all go. I have at least five (maybe six depending what time I get finished at tasting number five!) tastings, including a couple of interesting visits in St Emilion such as Jonathan Maltus. I have worked hard to squeeze in as much as possible. Monday should be fairly relaxing again; I take advantage of the fact that the UGC tastings don’t get underway until the Tuesday to spend some time in Pessac-Léognan (with visits to Haut-Bailly, Pape Clément, La Mission Haut-Brion) including the syndicat press tasting before heading down to Sauternes, to Raymond-Lafon and Climens.

The dovecot at Latour

Tuesday is a day for Pauillac, including all three first growths, as I don’t believe in skipping Latour simply because the wines aren’t sold en primeur. The individual notes and scores might not be much use, but understanding Latour is an important part of understanding the vintage. Every data point counts. I will also be tasting at all the usual suspects in St Estèphe, and will pop up to Sociando-Mallet too. Wednesday will be St Julien, Margaux and the Haut-Médoc, with visits to Margaux, Palmer, d’Issan, Ducru-Beaucaillou, La Lagune and others, before I head over to the right bank.

Thursday is a bit of a Pomerol whirlwind. We have Petrus, Le Pin, La Conseillante, L’Évangile, Le Gay, L’Église-Clinet and then a dash over to Angélus in St Emilion, and that’s just the morning. Lafleur, Ausone and more after a snatched lunch. Friday has promise too though, with tastings at Vieux Château Certan, Cheval Blanc, Figeac, Pavie, Tertre Roteboeuf and more.

Hopefully on Friday night, some beer! And time to start writing it all up of course. Next week, there will be no behind-paywall updates during the course of the week, but I will make some blog posts charting my progress across France’s second-most important wine region (after the Loire, obviously).

Checking in on . . . Herbert Hall Brut 2012

The sparkling wine scene in England continues to make waves, and I’m delighted to have been able to taste the 2012 from Herbert Hall recently, after writing up the 2011 last year. The 2011 charmed with a rather firm, Loire-like, stony-nettly reticence, but the 2012 shows a much riper, more seductive character.

Herbert Hall 2012

The 2012 from Herbert Hall Brut shows a lemon-gold hue and a huge, foaming mousse in the glass, a sign of the the wine’s youthful vigour, as is the swirling bead. It has an interesting nose, still showing a good stony suggestion like the 2011, but none of the nettly notes, only some slightly herby lemon fruit, with some sweeter suggestions in the background. This is revisited in the palate, where the stone-hard backbone is wrapped in nuances of dessert apple and even a subtle touch of tropical fruit, reminiscent of mango and apricot. There are some fine acids to it, a good mousse, and sharply cut creamed-fruit finish. This is really good. 16.5/20 (March 2015)

Disclosure: This wine was a sample sent by Herbert Hall.

Critics: The Primeurs Marketing Machine?

The world’s wine eyes are beginning to turn towards Bordeaux now, as en primeur season looms. Well, that opening statement might have been true a few weeks ago. Now it would be more accurate to say that the en primeur season is already underway; the early-bird critics are in Bordeaux, and making sure their presence is felt through social media.

Critical opinion is important because, as noted last week, there is a very good association between perceived quality of the latest vintage and prices, on the upward trend at least. This is very relevant to 2014, because while the last three vintages have been equivocal in terms of quality, or obviously poor as was the case in 2013, the 2014 vintage looks as though it might be a step up in quality. After all, following 2013, it can hardly be worse. If this were so we would have heard about it, as it would have involved tornadoes, earth-shattering hailstorms (more extensive and more severe than Bordeaux has already seen in recent vintages), rampant mildew, apocalyptic earthquakes, tsunamis washing over Bordeaux, that sort of thing. It is going to be a better vintage this year.

Nevertheless, the Bordelais are only human, and they (I realise I shouldn’t lump such a diverse group of winemakers together – they are all individuals – so forgive me for that) naturally look for external reinforcement of their own perception of the wines. And although only Parker has enough power to drive prices up or down, the Bordelais have always been willing to listen to other opinions (and indeed they only have other opinions now he has retired). They like to hear positive comments of course, and negative opinions are perhaps rather less welcome. I would be lying if I said I have never heard proprietors express frustration at critics who don’t “get behind a vintage”, and if I hadn’t been on the receiving end of emails along the lines of “how can we expect to sell our wines, when you score them so low?” (both comments made in the context of the 2013 vintage).

I don’t mind this. It is the right of the Bordelais to be positive about their new wines, if they so wish; it is a business after all, and the wines have to be sold, true of the 2013 vintage just as much as 2010, 2009 or 2005. Who wouldn’t put a positive spin on their product? It’s called salesmanship. And I’m confident enough in the honesty and fairness of my opinions to publish them, even when they aren’t so positive, or are plainly (although always politely) negative. Nevertheless, it is clear that proprietors who make statements like those above have misunderstood the very raison d’être of critics, who are there to provide independent opinion on the wines, for their readers. They are not part of the Bordeaux marketing machine, and I feel uncomfortable with any activity that exists on the borderline between independent reporting and marketing. It is a grey area though, so here’s my take on how I will report on the latest Bordeaux vintage.

● I won’t visit the region before the official en primeur week kicks off, and won’t make any comment on the wines at all before then. The need to have a ‘scoop’ on the wines only drives vintage hyperbole, and prices follow hyperbole.

● I won’t publish tweets on every château I have visited, or fleeting off-the-cuff impressions of the wines, because these are undeniably skewed towards the positive (can you imagine a visitor tweeting “I just visited Château [insert name here] and the wine was dreadful”? – no of course not – but of course there are plenty of “Château [insert name here] rocks!” tweets). Barrel samples need more careful consideration than this, and multiple tastings helps.

● I won’t use obvious expressions of hyperbole – “this is the best wine since the 1945″ and the like – especially not on social media. This also drives hyperbole.

● I will visit the region during the primeurs week, and I will publish free-to-read blog posts about the regions of Bordeaux I have covered each day, so readers can track my progress, but this will involve overall impressions only, and as in previous years, and won’t include comments on specific wines tasted, for the same reasons as above.

● I will publish a report, for subscribers, after synthesising the tastings of the week, after my return, which will be crammed with factual information and wall-to-wall honest opinion, but no hyperbole and no marketing spiel.

I would be very interested to read feedback on this approach, especially any comments on how I can use the primeurs season as it stands (accepting flaws inherent in the system, such as the vagaries of barrel samples and the fact the wines are very young) for the benefit of my readers but without being part of the marketing machine.

Bordeaux 2014: Prices will Rise

The 2014 Bordeaux primeurs draw near. The almost traditional pre-primeurs back-and-forth is already behind us. The UK wine trade called for sensible pricing in an open letter printed here in The Drinks Business. Bordeaux says no, of course.

Once a seemingly innocent device designed to provide early cash flow for the châteaux, which then mutated into merely the first step in a now well-established investment system, in recent years en primeur prices have risen almost interminably, as the châteaux sought to keep more of these investment profits previously enjoyed by third parties for themselves. In recent years this has resulted in a paradox, in that we now have many wines released at prices that are more expensive than mature vintages of the same wine. Add this to the many other criticisms of en primeur – samples that are tasted too early prior to blending, the exclusion of press wines from the blends, and even the failure to complete the malolactic fermentation before tasting in some cases, and of course the continued unproven suggestions of manipulated and misrepresentative samples – and today the en primeur system provokes more ire than joy. Some call for its abolition. Some pray for its collapse. When I read such criticisms I often think of what we would lose if that were to happen. I often also wonder, it has to be said, in what ways those making the calls might gain.

The tragedy is that en primeur as a system does work. It has worked for decades. All that is required is a drop in prices to regenerate lost good will and renew interest. I think anyone looking for significant price falls in the 2014 vintage will be disappointed though. The Bordelais are adept at matching their pricing to the perceived quality of the wines on an upward trend, as we have seen multiple times since the mid-1990s (and probably back further than that), but they are not so good at matching quality and price on a downward trend, as we have seen in the last three vintages. From 2013 to 2014 we have an upward trend in quality once again (you can’t go down from 2013!), and so to expect a contradictory price fall is rose-tinted wishful thinking. This isn’t another 2008 – there isn’t a global economic meltdown brewing. Prices will rise.

There are some obvious counter-arguments to my belief that prices will rise, and so I thought I might look at one or two of these here. The first and most obvious is Robert Parker. Will his retirement from the reporting of en primeur put a downwards pressure on pricing? After all, without Parker’s scores, how will the châteaux set the prices – won’t they just have to flog the wine off cheap? The answer to this question is no. Anyone who believes that Parker’s absence means cheaper wine has looked to the wrong vintage; that might have been the case in 2002 (although I believe it also reflected the despondency of the Bordelais who thought they had a much worse vintage on their hands than was actually the case, a factor that might have also played a role in 2008) but that’s not the Bordeaux we are dealing with today. I sense a more confident critic-free independence in Bordeaux these days. Parker’s absence does not begin in 2014 – do not overlook the fact that Parker didn’t report on the 2013 primeurs either. Because of recent surgery, he visited Bordeaux long after the 2013 primeurs finished.

The 2013 vintage was one that many in the region openly admitted to be the “worst in thirty years”, or “the worst in my lifetime” according to the younger folk. Not a 2002, or a 2008, but a 1984-style washout. So how did Parker’s absence influence the pricing in such a disastrous year? Many prices saw barely a token reduction – cuts of a few per cent – or none at all. Indeed, annoyed by the press having written off the vintage before even coming to Bordeaux to taste, Alfred Tesseron released his wine before the primeurs week had even got underway, and at a very strident price too. This was not really the action of a man who was lost without Parker. No doubt Tesseron was content (he certainly told me he was) as his wine sold very well (as far as the négociants at least, which isn’t quite the same as selling through to a consumer of course). And so if the Bordelais are content to price so aggressively without Parker’s support, why look for anything other than a price rise in 2014, obviously a better vintage?

The other major factor that might conceivably push prices down is the strain that exists in the system. Every year we hear en primeur is at breaking point. And then what happens? It doesn’t break. Nevertheless, there is a huge volume of wine in the system, and the négociants who have soaked up the recent difficult-to-sell and over-priced vintages must now be under great pressure. All the same, I doubt this will have an impact on pricing by the châteaux. I think it will take a major collapse, such as bankruptcy – the result of the banks who are supporting the négociants through these leaner years simply pulling the plug – to result in that. That’s not impossible, although I cannot imagine a bank doing this during the next few weeks as we head into the primeurs season. And those unloved vintages will eventually sell, discounted, or through the foires aux vins, generating cash flow for the négoce once again. So don’t hold your breath for lower prices based on the perhaps precarious state of some of the négociants.

The third reason we won’t see any drop in price is the current state of the Euro. The pound and dollar are both strong, and the Euro is weakening by the day. I have read that some hope this will produce a fabulous buying opportunity outside France, as whatever decisions are taken in Bordeaux the favourable exchange rates will mean a 15-20% reduction in price, on top of whatever cuts the Bordelais might make. But here’s the reality; the Bordelais are fully aware of the exchange rate, and know that potentially lucrative British and American markets are already getting a good deal based simply on these rates. Prices, despite the world’s obsession with Parker, are not set on his scores alone (and certainly won’t be this year). Everything else matters too, from the global markets (one reason why the 2008 prices were slashed) to the naivety of new markets (hence the dramatic price rises as China suddenly fell in love with Bordeaux), even what your neighbour sells his wine for has an impact. And so, of course, do exchange rates. Why lower prices, when all your prospective customers in the UK and the USA are already getting a super exchange-rate discount? This will certainly be taken into consideration when price setting.

Exploring Sherry #7: Emperatriz Eugenia

It has taken me quite a while to get around to the next instalment of my infrequent and informal Exploring Sherry series, but the wait has been worth it. This wine, an oloroso from Lustau, is a wine worth experiencing. It comes from a solera begun in 1921 to celebrate the visit of Emperatriz Eugenia (i.e. Eugénie de Montijo, wife of Napoleon III and Empress Consort of the French) to Jerez. Eugénie de Montijo died in 1920, many decades after her husband had also passed away, and years after her son was killed in a Zulu attack when serving with the British in South Africa. I can only assume that the visit for which the solera was established to commemorate occurred some years earlier.

Lustau Oloroso Emperatriz Eugenia

Nearly a century on and the solera is still going, and going strong too if this wine is anything to judge by. The Lustau Oloroso Emperatriz Eugenia has a golden amber-bronze hue, with lightly golden rim. It has a bright and rather high-toned nose, some tell-take driftwood oxidation notes, with scents of walnut, toast and dried citrus fruits. It has fine complexity, with smoke and toasted almond character coming in later. There follows a beautifully composed palate, gloriously full and broad, finely polished with a seamless feel at the start, so harmonious and yet so characterful. It slides gently into a very vinous midpalate, before the velvet curtains part to reveal some strident grip and energy within, along with fine acid brightness. Although this has a very typical oloroso profile I find the precision and bright character in the middle of the wine completely enticing. Long, gliding flawlessly into the finish. Excellent. From a 50 cl bottle. 17.5/20 (February 2015)

Salon des Vins de Loire 2015 day 3

Well that is the annual Salon des Vins de Loire over for another year. It’s been a busy few days; in combination with the preceding weekend salons, I’ve just completed five long days of tasting, almost every wine from the Loire (with just a handful from Bordeaux).

Yesterday I caught up with the domaines and growers (mostly Anjou) that I didn’t get around to seeing on Tuesday, including Pithon-Paillé, Domaine FL (pictured below is Julien Fournier, proprietor) and one or two others. After that it was anything goes. I revisited some old friends, such as in Vouvray Vincent Carême, and Château Gaudrelle. Then up to Pouilly-Fumé, to taste with the new superstar of the appellation, Jonathan Pabiot, whose wines I first tasted and reported on a year or two ago, and also Masson-Blondelet.

Julien Fournier

During the afternoon it all got a little bit random; at least a couple of domaines I was hoping to visit I had to skip as even though the salon runs until about 7pm each day, quite a number of growers started packing up after 3pm. Nevertheless that only freed up more time to taste at a number of domaines new to me, in some of the more diverse areas of the Loire, including Haut Poitou and the Côte Roannaise. In among these new discoveries were some other familiar names, such as Charles Joguet for example and Domaine de la Cotelleraie.

It was only today that I managed to make it up to La Levée de la Loire, the fair which this year has been incorporated into the Salon. I was glad that I did, as I discovered there a couple of the domaines I usually taste with but who weren’t at this year’s Salon, including both François Pinon and Domaine de la Pépière. La Levée is very different to the Salon, no big stands, just a simple table with whatever samples you have to pour on it. No doubt it is a much cheaper option than the Salon proper. Anyway, it was great to taste with Rémi Branger, including my first taste of a new cru communal cuvée from the Gras Moutons vineyard, and also with François, who happily had a much better vintage in 2014 than he did in hailstruck 2013, with several deliciously balanced demi-sec cuvées on the way in this vintage.

That’s it for now – I’m off to catch a train and a plane, and hopefully get my Loire 2014 report written up.

Salon des Vins de Loire 2015 day 2

The more meticulously you plan things, the more likely they are to go wrong. Thus it seems to me that the path to success involves never planning anything; then, when things go even half-right, it is a major victory worth celebrating. If I had this attitude yesterday would have been a success. As it happens, I succumbed to temptation, and made a plan; I drew up a shortlist of domaines I wished to visit, the end result of course being that I visited only about 60% of them, while visiting a number of domaines that weren’t on my Tuesday ‘hit list’ at all. I tasted some interesting wines and found some real quality (in 2014 again), so the day was certainly a success, but having stopped short of completing my list it still feels a bit like a failure.

I want to focus a little on Anjou during 2015, so tasted today with a number of significant domaines, including Château Pierre-Bise, Domaine de la Bergerie, Domaine Ogereau, Château Soucherie, Domaine des Baumard (pictured below, Florent Baumard), Thibaud Boudignon, my old favourite Domane Cady and one or two others. Perhaps the most striking wines were those of Thibaud Boudignon, who I have already profiled on Winedoctor, having visited him at his domaine last year. My tasting today only reaffirmed my view that Thibaud is one of the current stars of Anjou. Otherwise the big new as far as I am concerned is that Vincent Ogereau has managed to acquire two parcels of land in Chaume and Quarts de Chaume. I lamented with Vincent last year the absence of Quarts de Chaume from his portfolio, but it looks like he has done something about it. I look forward to being his first customer, when he actually gets to make some wine from these vines (fingers crossed for 2015).

Florent Baumard

Diversions into other regions pushed me in the direction of Chinon for Niolas Grosbois, to Vouvray for Sébastien Brunet, and back to Chinon for Philippe Alliet. In all cases I was impressed by the 2014 vintage, which as I said yesterday is good across all areas of the Loire, from Muscadet up to Sancerre, in all colours. It is not a vintage for grands liquoreux, although dedicated growers in Anjou have made tiny quantities of the great sweet wines, a typical volume being perhaps a single barrel of Quarts de Chaume, always at a potential that only just hit the 18º minimum for the appellation (the new grand cru regulations), with similar quantities of Chaume if applicable.

Today I have mixed bag of tastings coming up, everything from Pouilly-Fumé up to the Côte Roannaise, and from Vouvray down to Mauges, which is west of Anjou, in case you didn’t know. But of course, I’m not planning anything. That is, after all, the sure way to success.